It is colloquially referred to as the “achievement gap”, the disparity in success among certain groups of students in education. For STEM education, that achievement gap is extremely evident, yet it goes unchecked. Whether comparing genders or races, there is a huge disparity in performance in computing areas. This disparity is unhealthy, especially in a society where computing continues to grow more and more prevalent. And, for society to keep progressing, it must not leave behind entire segments of its population.
For so long, women were deemed unfit for STEM careers, which were dominated by men. And, while, much has been done to try to dispel that stereotype, women are still underrepresented in STEM fields. According to the National Math and Science Initiative, women make up nearly half of the workforce but under a quarter of the STEM workforce. That means that many more brilliant women could be working in STEM fields, but unfortunately that’s not the case. And, with regards to the traditionalistic response that women are perhaps better suited for other careers, one need only look at all of the successful and impactful women scientists and engineers. For instance, Grace Hopper. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in the field of computer science — the inventor of COBOL and the first developer of a computer programming compiler. She was also a woman. Women can surely thrive in STEM careers, if society is willing to transcend any consideration of past stereotypical thought.
The disparity in STEM achievement between minority groups, mainly Hispanics and African-Americans, and other races is also disconcerting. According to the National Math and Science Initiative, African-Americans and Hispanics make up 25% of the workforce but just 12% of STEM professions. Additionally, the aforementioned groups experience less achievement in secondary math education. Some may point to economic status is a factor in STEM achievement — but that is not an excuse. We, as members of society, must invest in everyone’s future to ensure that the same opportunities for success are afforded to everyone regardless of external factors.
It is important to address the achievement gap in more than rhetoric and slogans. Without a real dedicated effort towards helping students of all races and genders, progress will be impeded. STEM fields are growing so quickly with a surplus of opportunities, so there is no reason that any one group should be underrepresented.